East Herts District Council have issued a formal response to the government's White Paper setting out proposed changes to the UK planning system.
The proposed changes are contained in a government White Paper and aim to simplify and speed up the planning process, with an emphasis on housing delivery and good design. The system would remove case-by-case decisions and replace them with a rule-based system to "create more certainty for developers and local communities". The current system is blamed for the failure to deliver enough housing, despite local planning authorities across the country approving the overwhelming majority of applications. There is also a focus on modernising planning and using technology to create faster and more accessible plan-making and decision-making. It is argued that this will be more democratic and easier for residents to engage with and understand.
Specific proposals include:
Zoning of land into three categories: growth, renewal or protected. Land allocated in Growth Zones will be suitable for substantial development and granted permission in principle. Renewal Zones will consist of sites within urban areas or villages and brownfield sites. These areas will have a presumption in favour of sustainable development and be suitable for some development based on specific criteria. Development in Protected Zones will be restricted and subject to the current planning application process.
Development Management policies will be set nationally, with only Zone specific policies in Local Plans, which will be digital, shorter, interactive and mapbased. There will be a statutory 30-month timeframe for Local Plan production, with sanctions for delay. Local councils will only have 18 months to develop a plan before it is submitted to the secretary of state.
There will also be a nationally set target of 300,000 homes a year, with binding targets for local authorities.
In its response, the council raises a number of concerns, including the significant resources needed to deliver the new proposals, such as administration, training and systems.
... the local plan stage will require an increase in funding and skills to achieve, particularly if the unrealistic 30 month timetable for local plan production is taken forward. The White Paper significantly oversimplifies the allocation and site selection process in local plans. It is also unclear how much involvement local planning authorities will need to have in determining ‘constraints’ to their nationally imposed housing target. Given the amount of Green Belt in East Herts it seems unlikely it will all be assessed as a constraint, but will local planning authorities be required to undertake reviews of the Green Belt to inform decisions?
The council also expresses disappointment that the White Paper fails to address the importance of strategic planning and the role it plays in addressing cross-boundary issues.
There are also concerns that there is very little opportunity for community engagement. "The White Paper emphasises that there will be greater public engagement at the local plan stages but the 30 month timetable does little to facilitate enhanced engagement, particularly in areas such as East Herts which are likely to have high numbers of comments to process and consider".
Other shortcomings highlighted include the 'pre-approval of popular and replica designs through permitted development' that could result in identical development across the country which would not reflect the local vernacular and could lead to the standardisation of development rather than high quality design.
The council also assert that White Paper fails to recognise that it is often wider economics that delay development coming forward, not the planning system itself.
A ministry of housing spokesperson said: "We’re determined to build more homes quicker and our proposals to overhaul our outdated planning system will do just that".
The Council’s full consultation response is available to view here
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